4 Things to Not Do When Networking Online

With so many people unemployed these days — 13.3% of Americans as of May 2020, according to the Labor Department — now’s an ideal time to network. Of course, with in-person networking opportunities, not an option, the next best thing is using an online method, such as LinkedIn. But just like there’s a right and wrong way to network in person, there’s also a right and wrong way to network online.
As a freelance journalist who covers various lifestyle topics — namely personal finance/careers, dating/relationships, and travel — I’ve been affected by the pandemic, too, and have lost about 95% of my writing jobs the last few months. So I’ve been networking online just as much as the next person.
But, in doing so, I’ve seen mistakes people make when they reach out to me. I’m always happy to help someone out and used to be the queen of networking, pre-pandemic and in-person — ahh, remember those days?! — back in L.A. These days, however, we’re all in the same networking boat — online — and there is an unofficial protocol to follow. That said:

Here’s how not to network online.

1. Don’t immediately ask for a favor.

Especially if we’ve never, or rarely, communicated before, don’t ask for a favor right away. Several weeks ago, a fellow writer and I messaged each other on LinkedIn: she commented on an article I’d posted, I looked at her profile and saw she lives in a European city I love — one I even lived in for a few months — so I wrote her a quick note saying hi. That was it. I wanted nothing from her — it was just a nice, friendly message.
She messages back and work comes up — I mention how I’ve lost 95% of my writing clients due to the pandemic, so all I do is hustle and pitch and job-hunt all day. (Which makes quarantine fly by, honestly.) What does she respond? She asks me if I can introduce her to an editor at one of the places I rarely write for — they’re not taking a lot of pitches lately. A quick Google search would have shown her that I haven’t written for them for a while, so it’s probably best to not ask for an introduction right now. (It’s a bit of a sensitive topic — you know?) Which brings me to my second point …

2. Don’t forget to do your research before asking anything.

I have worked hard to get the editorial contacts and relationships I have. I am glad to share them with people I know and have a relationship with, but not with someone who: doesn’t do their homework (i.e., a Google search) and also isn’t empathetic to the fact that I literally just said I’d lost 95% of my writing jobs. (Yes, I would love a sympathy e-card, thank you!)
This could have easily been avoided had she just asked me a few exploratory questions first to gauge the situation: “What kinds of writing jobs are you looking for?” or “That’s a bummer — which client(s) do you still have?” But her abruptness was like a guy asking me to marry him on a first date. No matter how cute and charming he is — no. Speaking of dating …

3. Don’t flirt.

When did LinkedIn turn into a dating site?! I’ve actually long-appreciated the safe and serious nature of the site, but lately, I find that certain people are not on it “networking” for the right reasons. In general, I’m very careful about whose connection requests I accept.
A few months ago, I received one from a random guy — no mutual connections — and saw that we both freelance for the same publication. Okay, it seems legit, I thought. But once I accepted the request, it opened the floodgates to a stream of non-businessy messages from him. Um … no thanks. I “disconnected” from him, as well as reported and blocked him. These days, there are more than enough dating sites and apps to use for dating — leave LinkedIn alone.

4. Don’t introduce me to a friend of yours without asking me first.

I cannot tell you how many times a friend or acquaintance will email me and ask if I can help out their friend — and the friend is cc’d. Gasp! Again, while I’m always happy to help, I think good old-fashioned manners warrant my friend running the scenario by me first: “My friend wants to become a remote writer, too — can I introduce her to you?” That way, I’m not caught off guard and can first get more information about what the person’s looking for — and figure out if I’m even the right one to help them.

While you may be new to networking, especially online, there’s still a better and worse way to network. Next time you find yourself doing so, keep in mind the four “don’ts” above — in fact, just do the opposite of them and you should be well on your way to organically connecting with people in your field.